Tag Archives: service

Good-bye to One of God’s Nobles

carl-funeralWe said good-bye to our friend Carl a couple of days ago. He passed away doing something he loved—looking for a little gold. Someone found him in one of the wild places of Idaho where he loved to go to pan for small flakes of the precious metal.

Carl would smile and say that he had gold fever. But he never cared about getting rich from the gold. He just loved being out in those beautiful, solitary places. It was always Carl and his beloved companion Buddy, the black and white spaniel, out there by one of those streams. Then a few months ago, sadly, Buddy had to be put down.

carl-gold-15ag16_dsc02140f

Carl teaches a grandson about panning for gold.

Carl always gave away the gold he discovered. Many family members and friends have a memento of his search for gold—a necklace with a small blue stone and a flake of gold for the women, or a tie tack in the shape of a gold pan with a flake of gold in it for the men.

That was the way Carl lived—always giving. We saw him from time to time walking past our house to check on the blind widow who lived on the other side of us. We learned at the funeral that he wasn’t just checking in at her door. He would sit and read to her for her pleasure.

Carl was buried with military honors. He served in Vietnam almost 50 years ago. He was trained for combat, but his posting had him in support areas behind the lines. He could not stand the Army’s “hurry up and wait” between assignments, so he scrounged some materials and built a “hootch” for him and his tent mates to live in. It afforded more protection than their tent. When his superiors saw what he had done by himself, they pulled Carl off of some of his regular assignments, provided the needed materials, and had him build more hootches to house other soldiers.

He was always resourceful. Sometime after returning home, he was in a snowmobile accident that severely damaged nerves in his left arm. He could use his hand well enough, but he carried the arm in a homemade leather sling strap he had made. He became a handyman to people in the small pioneer farm town where he lived. He was skilled in carpentry, plumbing, and maintenance. From across the street, he watched over our house for us when we weren’t there.

One day Carl saw me out trying to cut some dead limbs off a tree. He strolled over to tell me I ought to let him do that. What he said next was horrifying: “You’re so much more valuable to the kingdom of God than I am, and you could get hurt up there working on that ladder.” I assured him firmly that if there were any question of ranking in heaven, I would certainly not rank above him. But there was no dissuading him from the chore. Standing on the ladder, he used his good arm to swing the chain saw up to rest the blade on a limb, then triggered the saw to cut through the dead wood, and when the limb fell, let the saw swing in an arc down past his leg. He did it again and again, until the dead limbs were gone.

carl-gold-15ag16_dsc02144f

The gold never made him a rich man–but the searching did.

The funeral was well-attended. Everyone in town knew and trusted Carl. When Mrs. S. went across the street beforehand to see if she could retrieve our house keys, Carl’s daughter had to sort through many sets. It seems Carl had access to quite a number of the houses in town. We never knew when he had visited our house unless he told us; he always left everything in good order.

Carl was not perfect. None of us is. But he was vastly underrated by many people—including Carl. He was the kind of person the world desperately needs. His passing is a loss to us all.

With all he knew about everyone in town, I never heard him say a critical word about anyone. It just wasn’t in him. He could laugh about someone’s very human foibles—including his own—or allow as how he might have done things differently. But he wasn’t one to speak ill.

In his relationships with other people as in his hobby, Carl always looked for the gold.

 

Among Believers

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02977B

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Our worship service was a bit different last Sunday. It involved seven people balanced on the edges of beds or on hard chairs in a small hotel room in St. John’s, New Brunswick. We came from three different countries and four different faiths.

What the seven of us had in common was belief in Jesus Christ and a desire to worship Him on the Sabbath. We met in that hotel room at the invitation of a Presbyterian minister from Illinois traveling with our tour group. He followed the order of worship he would have followed at his pulpit back home that day.

Those of us in that room could have found doctrinal differences, I am sure, if we had chosen to discuss them. Instead, what we found together was comfort in the knowledge that through the Lord Jesus Christ we all may be forgiven of our sins and become better followers of His.

In several cities during this trip, my wife and I have seen many people who appear to be wandering aimlessly in life. They seem to know how to fill their days with activity, but not how to fill their lives with growth and useful experiences.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02991BAnd yet we have met others who find fulfillment in giving of themselves. In our tour group, these included the outdoorsman who has spent many years in lifesaving on Australian beaches, and the teacher who uses music to help young people through their educational and emotional struggles. The minister and his wife are also among those people who purposefully give to others. While he and I might have differences on theological themes, I have to admire his willingness to share the knowledge of God with others. In that he is an example to me.

In high school, an agnostic friend of mine once said that Hell is every church’s gift to every other church. He was too cynical, I think, and too inexperienced to see how good can draw people together no matter what their backgrounds. I believe in a loving, caring Heavenly Father who will reward every one of His Children for the good we do, no matter what church we attend.

On a personal level, some doctrinal differences matter very much to me. I dare not minimize the principles of faith to which I am committed. Belief in those principles has shaped every crucial decision in my life. Trying to live those principles is making me a better disciple of Christ. I will hold them dear even as many in the world abandon them, and even if my beliefs are challenged and mocked.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02982BBut I do not believe that God reserves His blessings only for those who share my doctrinal views and my church affiliation. Experience teaches that there are many upstanding people of other churches—or of no church—who are intent on doing good to those around them. Surely God will answer the prayers of any of His children who desire righteousness. Often we mortals simply need to work on understanding the wisdom of His answer, be it “Yes,” “No,” or “Follow the counsel I have already given in my holy scriptures.” Sometimes the answer may be, “Are you ready to follow the direction I will give you through my Holy Spirit?” Jesus Christ wasn’t just leading us on when He taught that if we ask in faith, we will receive (Matthew 21:22).

So on a Sunday far from home, we were grateful to be among a group of believers—people who believe in asking for His blessings, and who have the faith to receive.

Caught in the Rush-hour Traffic of Life

Crawling along in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic, covering less than 15 miles in an hour, provokes some interesting thoughts. The first is, “I’m never coming back to this place. How can people have lives here if they have to commute like this every day?”
Another thought is that people caught in this colossal waste of time are indifferent to anyone outside the small enclosures of their vehicles, or worse, they are angry at anyone in their way. For example, the woman in the next car is busily texting while she creeps along. The guy in the plumbing truck behind us makes angry faces and gestures because I’m not going fast enough for him, and finally finds a way to creep past us on the side. The guy in the Mercedes weaving in and out of traffic cuts people off and risks involving others in an accident just so he can pull a couple of cars ahead.
Nope. I’m never coming back to Boston again.
But I shouldn’t blame Boston for this. I’ve been in similar situations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, São Paulo, London, Tokyo, and Accra. I’m not trying to drop names here; the point is that in today’s world, clogged traffic like this is a common human experience.
And where are we really when we’re all stuck in traffic?
In Tokyo, I saw a mother and daughter come out of a subway train walking side by side, each furiously texting someone else. If one had disappeared, I’m not sure the other would have known.
How often am I, and how often are you, self-absorbed like that? How often are we oblivious to anything outside our small enclosure of personal space?
I could not undertake to judge any of the people I saw in that situation. Maybe the woman texting in traffic was multi-tasking—arranging an activity for her daughter’s school or keeping in touch with a son home alone. Maybe the man in the plumbing truck was in a rush to get to someone’s broken water line. Maybe the man weaving through traffic had a family emergency.
And if I can’t judge the people around me, what should I be doing with my time? Maybe I ought to be thinking about how I could reach out to others.
That was part of the miracle of the life of Jesus Christ. He knew and tried to meet the needs of others around him, no matter His own needs or wants.
If I want to think of myself as one of His followers, perhaps I need to break out of the walls of my own little enclosure and think about how I could help others get through the stop-and-go traffic of life.

The Sidewalk to Nowhere

DSC00110Mrs. S. and I love to explore the places where we are, so we do a lot of walking. In our new neighborhood, we recently discovered the sidewalk to nowhere. It begins across the street from our granddaughters’ school and curves off along a canal into a large, vacant tract of land.

The whole area is still under development, but what, we wondered, is the purpose of this sidewalk? What is its destination? So one day we decided to follow it.

The sidewalk runs along that stagnant canal and through an area that has become a DSC00114dumping ground for excavated dirt, and trash and debris. There is a hint at least of clandestine activity out here—discarded beer and liquor bottles, and broken, abandoned things. Stolen, perhaps? Is that why there’s an abandoned grocery cart in the canal?

The sidewalk ends in the dirt (or mud, in season) about 50 yards from a back street in an industrial area.

Is this walkway part of some developmental master plan? Who knows. Right now, it’s just a useless side trip.

This path makes me wonder how many sidewalks to nowhere there are in my life.

When I choose to do something that I know God does not want me to do—when I sin willfully—I know I am taking the sidewalk to nowhere. The path is going to end in disappointment and worthless trash, and I run the risk of getting lost, unable to find my way back.

DSC00113But what about the times when I simply have not thought out my course? Would I choose this path if I knew from the beginning that I would find only trash along the way and a nasty mud hole at the end?

What about the times when I set out on the path to acquiring more money or things? Has that ever ended in any lasting happiness?

What about the times when I set out to justify myself? “I was right and she was wrong.” “That other driver was a careless jerk.” “What I should have said to him was . . . .” There’s nothing worthwhile at the end of that path.

What about the times when my attitude was, “Father, I can handle this by myself”? When did that ever turn out well?

Standing here at the beginning, I can choose to follow this path, or I can turn to the right or left on one of the routes that lead to places of fulfillment—places where I can learn, and love, and be with family. They will be places where I can serve, instead of simply passing time.

If I choose the right path, ultimately it will take me Home.

The best way to choose is probably to ask myself, “Which path would the Master follow after saying, ‘Come, follow me’?”

 

 

 

Beauty in Desolation

Clouds_Florence_8Au15

Clouds at sunset, Florence, Arizona

It is the middle of an August afternoon in southern Arizona and the temperature outdoors hovers, as usual, at a few degrees over 100 Fahrenheit. At the edge of this small town there is nothing to be seen but cactus, sand, and scattered small bushes. The view could hardly be more forbidding.

Sometimes when I come here I wonder if the people who own the large homes in town ever look out their front windows. Do they realize where they live? To a visitor, this looks like the land of saguaro, sagebrush, and scorpions.

And yet . . . the desert has its own stark beauty. It can have magnificent sunrises and sunsets. The open sky overhead at night can be a thing of wonder. And there is always beauty to be found even in Desert 10Au15_1020216the desert when you look closely—in the distant blue mountains, in a cactus bloom, in the yellow and orange flowers on one bush that crops up often, particularly in some of the nice xeriscape yards. (I do not know its name. The truth is that even though I think plants are lovely, I have largely a nodding acquaintance with them.) Where people have planted those strategically, the bush adds a nice touch of life to an otherwise bleak landscape.

I have known people like that—people who bloom in bleak settings, who bring life and hope in places where no one would think it could thrive.

Santa Fe is a very poor barrio just below the airport in Guatemala City. It was originally built by squatters who simply took over the land and constructed adobe houses on it. It is the kind of place where some buildings are combinations of plastered adobe and rusty sheets of corrugated iron. It is the kind of place where many people have no hope because they have no work, and where drug gangs need have no fear of the law. One teenage boy I met there spent months recovering from gunshot wounds after he threw his body over that of a little girl in the neighborhood store to protect her in a drive-by shooting. Santa Fe is the kind of place that seems to have many exits but no escape.

And yet . . . I knew people there whose level of goodness and brotherly, or sisterly, love made me wish I could live so well. Many had next to nothing, but whatever they had, they would share with their projimo—in Spanish, the person next to them. Their concern is not for their own position, their own comfort, their standing in the community, their convenience, or their income. They simply do unto others service and kindness because they can, and because they believe in following the admonition to “love thy neighbour as thyself.”

May God bless those who bloom in the desert, bringing life in an otherwise bleak landscape because their roots draw nourishment from the Source of living water. And may He bless me to be more like them.

What Are We Doing with Our Privileges?

There is an incredible sense of privilege when we look back over the route we have just traveled. We have driven, more or less in reverse, the route our Mormon pioneer ancestors followed 167 years ago. The journey took them a little more than three and one-half months. We drove it in a day and a half.

Fairbanks stat_1010176

Avard Fairbanks statue of a pioneer couple struggling across the plains, Winter Quarters ceemetery

At freeway speeds on I-80 we covered in one hour about the same distance they covered in a week. We left Salt Lake City early on a Thursday morning and we spent Friday afternoon visiting the pioneer cemetery and the LDS Temple at Winter Quarters, in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska.

As a boy, my father’s father drove the freight road in eastern Utah with his father, transporting goods from Price to the Vernal area. He told me that in a loaded wagon pulled by a team of horses, 10 miles was a good day. Today, we can drive the distance from Price to Vernal in a matter of hours. So sometimes it is hard to comprehend the obstacles our pioneer ancestors faced.

Building on the efforts of pioneers in science, industry, and medicine over the past 100 years, we have created a world in which we are free to do things my grandparents could not have dreamed of.

There is a temptation to indulge in old guy stories here: “I remember when we had to pick up a phone in the nook in our hallway and give an operator the number we wanted so she could connect the call.” I remember when we bought our first 512K Mac computer—allowing us to type electronically and play a few simple games—a generation ago now. My seven-year-old grandson, who has his own small tablet computer, cannot conceive that such a primitive world ever existed.

But the point here is not that the world has changed. The question is: In a world with machines, devices, and systems that make it possible to accomplish so much more, what are we doing with our opportunities? Do we aspire simply to the same things our parents and grandparents hoped to do when so much more is at our fingertips?

Chimney 9Oc14_3524

Chimney Rock, pioneer landmark along the Platte River, Nebraska

I no longer have to spend all day plowing or planting so that we have a crop for food in the winter. What, then, am I doing with my time? Since I do not have to spend time in another day of trekking across the Great Plains with my wagon, what is on the wider horizon? Can I perhaps spend my time on something that will benefit others? My wife no longer has to spend all day building a fire, heating water, scrubbing clothes in a tub, and hanging and gathering them on the clothesline. She spends a lot of her time serving others.

Are we doing enough? Is there more I could do to put myself in tune with the infinite—or to be less vague, to learn my Heavenly Father’s will and do it? What would He have me do for others?

Brigham Young, the second prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once taught that most of us live far below our spiritual privileges. We could receive so much more of what God has to offer us if we were in tune with His Spirit. The great Christian writer C. S. Lewis taught something of the same thing in writing that God could make so much more of our lives, if only we would let Him.

So the question we need to ask ourselves (or at least that I need to examine myself on daily) is: What are we doing with our privileges?

 

The Heaven I Hope to Find

 

Paris 1Se14_1000580

 

It was a shock to hear of Dennis’s death. The last time I saw him, some months ago, he seemed to be in better health and doing well. I hoped he would have long life because he has been such a good example and influence in his family, in his church, and in the community.

The shock was compounded, I admit, by realizing that he was only a year older than I am.

I considered him a friend, but it could not be truly said that we were close. Circumstances never permitted that opportunity. I admired him, and wished in many ways that I could be more like him. If anyone were to tell me that I shared some of his qualities, I would consider it a high compliment and an honor.

His passing is a loss for all of us on this earth, but I am sure he was welcomed home warmly in the kingdom of His Father.

I am equally sure he is prepared to go on serving among his fellow beings in that kingdom—among the other children of our Heavenly father who have passed on and are awaiting the great day of judgment that we will all face.

Paris 1Se14_1000586That is the kind of heaven I look forward to. If I can live obediently so that the atoning grace of Christ applies to my personal inadequacies, then I expect a heaven that offers eternal progress through learning and service. What else would heaven be but a place to build on what we have just barely begun in mortality?

Jesus Christ repeatedly called his disciples to service; many times the invitation was, “follow me” (John 12:26). Shortly before his crucifixion, he told his devoted apostles, “I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2). Again, after his Resurrection he exhorted them to obedience and service (see John 21). He continued to instruct them through revelation, and even to call new apostles after His Resurrection—Saul, for example. Obviously, Jesus Christ’s work among the children of His Father was meant to continue after He wrought the promised Atonement through His suffering and death.

If we accept His invitation take up His cross and follow Him, we can expect to serve Him in this life and in the life to come. Why should we expect service to end simply because we go from mortality to immortality? It is the doctrine of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), that those who faithfully follow and serve the Lord Jesus Christ in this life will have the opportunity to continue serving in the hereafter. This was revealed to a prophet in our day. (See Doctrine and Covenants section 138, particularly verses 57-59.) I believe. God has given me my own personal witness.

This is the heaven I hope to find, one in which there will be opportunity to continue serving, if only I can live obediently until the end of my mortal life, “(showing) my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

As long as I knew Dennis, that is the way he lived. I imagine that one of his first questions on finding himself in his new surroundings would have been, “How may I serve?” I can only believe that our Savior and Redeemer would reward such a willing servant with opportunity.